Tuesday, June 11, 2013

My Sacrifice

What, then, is the sacrifice? What is a priori false about it? At its most elementary, sacrifice relies on the notion of exchange: I offer to the Other something precious to me in order to get back from the Other something even more vital to me (the "primitive" tribes sacrifice animals or even humans so that Gods will repay them by enough rainfall, military victory, etc.) The next, already more intricate level is to conceive sacrifice as a gesture which does not directly aim at some profitable exchange with the Other to whom we sacrifice: its more basic aim is rather to ascertain that there IS some Other out there who is able to reply (or not) to our sacrificial entreaties. Even if the Other does not grant my wish, I can at least be assured that there IS an Other who, maybe, next time will respond differently: the world out there, inclusive of all catastrophes that may befall me, is not a meaningless blind machinery, but a partner in a possible dialogue, so that even a catastrophic outcome is to be read as a meaningful response, not as a kingdom of blind chance... Lacan goes here a step further: the notion of sacrifice usually associated with Lacanian psychoanalysis is that of a gesture that enacts the disavowal of the impotence of the big Other: at its most elementary, the subject does not offer his sacrifice to profit from it himself, but to fill in the lack in the Other, to sustain the appearance of the Other's omnipotence or, at least, consistency. Let us recall Beau Geste, the classic Hollywood adventure melodrama from 1938, in which the elder of the three brothers who live with their benevolent aunt (Gary Cooper), in what seems to be a gesture of excessive ungrateful cruelty, steals the enormously expensive diamond necklace which is the pride of the aunt's family, and disappears with it, knowing that his reputation is ruined, that he will be forever known as the ungracious embezzler of his benefactress - so why did he do it? At the end of the film, we learn that he did it in order to prevent the embarrassing disclosure that the necklace was a fake: unbeknowst to all others, he knew that, some time ago, the aunt had to sell the necklace to a rich maharaja in order to save the family from bankruptcy, and replaced it with a worthless imitation. Just prior to his "theft," he learned that a distant uncle who co-owned the necklace wanted it sold for financial gain; if the necklace were to be sold, the fact that it is a fake would undoubtedly be discovered, so the only way to retain the aunt's and thus the family's honor is to stage its theft... This is the proper deception of the crime of stealing: to occlude the fact that, ultimately, THERE IS NOTHING TO STEAL - this way, the constitutive lack of the Other is concealed, i.e. the illusion is maintained that the Other possessed what was stolen from it. If, in love, one gives what one doesn't possess, in a crime of love, one steals from the beloved Other what the Other doesn't possess... to this alludes the "beau geste" of the film's title.17 And therein resides also the meaning of sacrifice: one sacrifices oneself (one's honor and future in respectful society) to maintain the appearance of the Other's honor, to save the beloved Other from shame.


While men sacrifice themselves for a Thing (country, freedom, honor), only women are able bto sacrifice themselves for nothing. (Or: men are moral, while only women are properly ethical.) And it is our contention that this "empty" sacrifice is the Christian gesture par excellence: it is only against the background of this empty gesture that one can begin to appreciate the uniqueness of the figure of Christ.
-Slavoj Zizek, "Death's Merciless Love"

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